A smart barn for your backyard

In this world of smart homes, smart devices, and smart plugs, there’s no reason why we can’t have a smart co-op right in our backyard! Chickens thrive on routine, and automation makes our lives easier, but technology is forever hard at best. Let’s dive into some of the concepts, considerations, solutions, and solutions I’ve found as we strive to automate the lives of my chickens.

Smart cup

The term “smart collaboration” is relative. There are “smart” devices and “not-so-smart” devices, just like smart hens and not-so-smart chickens (you know). Both types of devices can achieve some level of automation, but I will focus on the two that are smarter.

Not very smart

Non-intelligent devices can be considered more independent than smart devices because they can make their own judgment, which is backwards if you think about it. A prime example of this category could include bucket de-icers, thermostatically controlled vents, automated chicken doors, and mechanical timers. These devices work, but they do not provide flexibility, or are negatively affected by energy loss, like timers, which can cause great harm to girls.

“Not-so-smart” additions to your coop can be very useful, such as a light-sensor-driven automated chicken door.

smart phones

Smart devices are more dynamic because you can change their logic, usually through a graphical user interface, such as an app on your phone or a website. These devices allow you to specify things like “Turn off at 8 PM” or “Turn on if the local temperature reaches 35 degrees Fahrenheit.” The beauty of these more flexible solutions is the scheduling and remote control they provide to your smart channel, but not all smart device systems are created equal.


Almost everything has a protocol in the digital world. All USB devices use the same language or protocol to talk to your computer; Your cell phone adheres to the protocol so that it works with your service provider’s network. As such, it should come as no surprise that smart devices have one or two or three protocols.

Creating conditions such as “on if it’s less than 35 degrees Fahrenheit” or “on at 6 a.m.” is of great benefit to automating the chicken coop.

WiFi and routers

Wifi is probably the easiest protocol to build your smart collaboration with. Most people already have wifi at home, and that network is likely to reach their backyard barn. Modern wifi operates on two frequencies; 2.4GHz and 5GHz. I’ll avoid going into why (that would be wading in the technical weeds), but a 2.4GHz wifi signal does a better job of penetrating walls and traveling a longer distance, which means it’s the better option for us if we’re trying to access our smart coop in the backyard.

Building smart collaborations using Wi-Fi devices is the simplest way, mainly because you likely already have a network. However, you may need to configure your Wi-Fi router to work on 2.4GHz or create two networks. Many home network routers can create two Wi-Fi networks at once, so you can run your PC or streaming device on the 5GHz network for the best speed while still having the 2.4GHz network for your smart collaboration devices. This is how my setup is currently set up.

Wi-Fi controllers like these are what I use to automate my cages.

ZigBee and Z-Wave

Zigbee and Z-wave are two popular yet competing protocols that share the same premise but achieve the outcome slightly differently. Both protocols create a network that talks to and controls smart devices, providing a local control center. This network works independently of any Wi-Fi network in the sense that smart devices do not use your Wi-Fi network. However, the Control Center can interact with your local Wi-Fi network.

Cloud vs local

Smart devices that rely on Wi-Fi networks use the cloud to control them, or in other words, someone else’s computer, like Google. The primary functional downfall of this cloud approach is; If you lose or don’t have internet service, your devices won’t work. With Zigbee or Z-wave, you have a local hub that can, in most cases, work offline.

Wi-Fi cheese

If I were to start over, I would build a local Zigbee network to control my smart devices, both in the barn and at home. Unfortunately, I’m already invested in Wi-Fi gear, and I’m not inclined to change it because I’ve worked around the general problems I’ve found. The biggest problem I’ve found with my smart channel is the light timing. If the Internet is down when the cloud service sends a message to turn off the light, the light in my barn will never reach the message. I have it set up so that every hour the service will either tell the device to turn on or off. If the light is on when the “on” command is sent, it remains on, and the command itself turns off. Set up like this, whenever the power or internet comes back on, within an hour max, the cloud service will correct the light for me, so I don’t leave my girls in perpetual darkness or light, which can cause downtime in whites or whites deaths, respectively.

Using smart devices helps keep my girls happy, healthy and productive all year round.

Safety and automation

Not all smart collaboration devices are created equal. Most wall plug or light socket consoles are rated for 10 amps of power draw, which is more than enough for an equivalent 40-watt LED bulb. Those 10-amp units aren’t a wise choice to power everyone’s favorite heating source, however, that trusty old 250-watt infrared bulb. In order to prevent the risk of fire or destroying your smart appliances, use a 15-watt smart plug when regulating a heat source or other high-draft appliance in your barn, especially anything with a motor. Also, look for UL approved appliances for added peace of mind because not all appliances sold are certified.

Smart, affordable devices have made our lives easier, and now they can improve the lives of chickens, too! Do you use smart devices in your barn? Did this article inspire you to try it? Let us know in the comments below!

12 years old Jeremy Chartier He became involved with his local group 4-H, and later joined the local FFA chapter, showing cattle up to his
college years. After graduating from the University of Connecticut’s Ratcliffe Hicks School of Agriculture, he attended the University of Maine’s Poultry Service Provider Training Program. Today Jeremy sells pallet to local backyard farmers, is still involved with 4-H as a poultry show judge and writes about his passion for farming.

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